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The New Organon

Francis Bacon

Important Terms

General Summary

Important Themes, Ideas and Arguments

Aristotle  -  (384–322BC). Aristotle wrote widely on almost every subject from ethics to politics to natural history, and dominated Western thought up to and beyond the Middle Ages. Medieval Aristotelian philosophers, who taught in universities or "schools," were often known as Scholastics. Many later scientists and philosophers worked in a fundamentally Aristotelian way. Bacon seeks to end the dominance of Aristotle by attacking his methodology and central premises; he argues that his dominance results from prejudice and from the authority of others, not from the merits of his philosophy. Bacon was not the first anti- Aristotelian philosopher, but he is among the most strident. See syllogism.
Axioms  -  Terms or statements that can be accepted as truthful. Bacon's method seeks to derive general axioms from sense impressions and experiments through a series of intermediate axioms.
Gilbert  -  William Gilbert (c1540–1603). Gilbert was Elizabeth I's physician, and published studies of electricity and magnetism. He published De Magnete in 1600, in which he argued that the world was a huge magnet with north and south poles. Bacon criticizes Gilbert's work as an example of the empirical style of philosophy, which focuses on a limited series of experiments and encourages the mind to develop unsubstantiated general theories. See Idols of the theater.
The Great Renewal  -  The Great renewal (or "instauration") of the arts and sciences was the broad project of which Bacon's New Organon forms a part. Bacon intended his Great Instauration to be in six volumes. It was a hugely ambitious project, one that aimed to redefine the logical foundations of science, to demolish the foolish notions that prevented scientific progress, to propose a new methodology, and ultimately benefit mankind immeasurably. The New Organon begins with an outline of the whole project, which was never completed.
Idols of the cave  -  The second of the "idols." Idols of the cave result from an individual's tastes and prejudices. Your education, the books you have read and the company you keep all distort your perception of nature. As a result, human perceptions of nature vary widely, simply because all men are different.
Idols of the marketplace  -  The third type of "idol." Idols of the marketplace come from men's association with others, and chiefly through words and language. Language is ambiguous, and often confuses our understanding of nature.
Idols of the theater  -  The fourth type of "idol." Idols of the theater come from various philosophies; Bacon argues that all philosophies are no better than stage-plays. Bacon identifies various forms of this idol; sophistic, empirical and superstitious philosophy. Sophistic philosophy is personified by Aristotle, who was more concerned with clever but foolish arguments than with natural phenomena. Empirical philosophy as practiced by Gilbert concentrates on a narrow range of experiments to the exclusion of everything else. Superstitious philosophy is a corruption of philosophy by superstition and false religion. It is the worst form of error.
Idols of the tribe  -  The first of the series of "idols," or obstacles, that Bacon feels humans need to overcome in order to reason clearly. Idols of the tribe result from failings in human sense perception, and are general to all people.
Induction  -  The alternative logical method that Bacon proposes to replace Aristotle's syllogism. Essentially, induction begins by considering things as they appear in the world, then proceeds by a long series of intermediate steps to formulate general axioms about these things. Bacon details the various steps in this process, which begins with the collection of information about the things one is studying, then the formulation of initial impressions, then the use of privileged instances, in the first Book of The New Organon. See syllogism.
Organon  -  Bacon's New Organon or Novum Organon, refers to one of Aristotle's works. The Organon, or "Instrument for rational thinking" set out Aristotle's views on logic, which Bacon sees as useless for modern scientific inquiry. His work seeks to improve upon Aristotle by presenting a new logical method. Bacon sees his work as an "instrument for rational thinking" because his Organon sets out a carefully-defined process that any scientific investigator can follow; the investigator is not required to deviate very much form this protocol. It is essentially a machine for thinking about the natural world.
Privileged instances  -  Bacon identifies privileged instances as examples or occurrences of a given nature that reveal it with great precision and clarity. They allow the scientist quickly to identify the characteristics of that nature, after he has done the basic work of assembling tables of difference and similarity, and making a first harvest or interpretation. Essentially, they guide the investigation towards its conclusion. Bacon identifies twenty-seven such instances. His explanation of these instances emphasizes the role of experiment and observation within them. For example, after assembling information about a nature, the fourteenth privileged instance—crucial instances or "instances of the finger post"—help the investigator to decide to which of two similar natures the nature he is considering should be assigned. See induction.
Syllogism  -  The syllogism is the central building block of Aristotle's logic. It works by deriving a third term from two accepted premises, e.g: A. Socrates is a man B. All men are mortal. C. Socrates is mortal. Term C. must be true if we accept that terms A. and B. are also true. Syllogisms essentially rely on certain facts being accepted as absolutely true. Bacon argues that they are useless for scientific inquiry because, amongst other things, they rely on words that might be poorly defined or too abstract. Moreover, Bacon questions the essential truths that form the basis of the syllogism. Syllogisms, according to Bacon, are also divorced from practice and the active part of science. Induction is a far better method.

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by anon_2223129944, November 27, 2014

"Bacon's scathing attack on current philosophy and on the scientific method."
As I recall, Bacon attacked the philosophical thinking and scholasticism of his day, but his work DESCRIBED what has become known as the scientific method, which had not been formalized previously. Also, while he emphasized beginning with inductive reasoning, he warned AGAINST leaving off at gathering data and generalizing from it. Not only was (as noted) experimentation important, but so was DEDUCTIVE reasoning, in its proper place. Bacon also suggested t... Read more

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